Tag Archives: author choices

Books anyone? A few words about MTMail, building a fanbase and Instafreebie. #bookmarketing

Building a mailing list or a fanbase.

Clearly every author wants to be successful, and the ones who are often make it look easy. But usually their success is the result of a great deal of hard graft behind the scenes. Yep, that swan-like author floating effortlessly across the retail waters is paddling like crazy under the surface.

There are many factors which can help an author to succeed but one that is key is an engaged and enthusiastic fanbase. People do business with people. Sure, they have to like your books but it helps a lot if they like you, too. Today, I’m going to give you a brief# explanation of how you can use Instafreebie to help grow your newsletter list and start to build that fanbase.

# Actually it’s not brief at all, it’s incredibly long, as usual, because I wrote it, but I hope it is useful.

If the idea of building a fanbase or a mailing list makes you feel like this, read on.

Ditch your preconceptions

Forget any tendency to view other writers as ‘the competition’. Since all anyone needs to access pretty much the entire world ebook market is a computer and an internet connection there’s room enough for each of us to find our niche. Think about it, one thing that unites readers is that they love books, and that means they read lots of them, and surely that means they’re going to love more than one author, just as they’ll like more than one band, or more than one TV show. Readers can, and do, follow lots of authors, while being big fans of them all.

Give your work away free.

Yes, I know this sounds counter intuitive but it does work. Preferably some of your best stuff so they’ll read it and think, ‘blimey this writer’s good! I must have more of that.’

Alternatively, only give your book away in exchange for the reader’s email address. That way you can let them know where to buy the rest of your books – should they want to – in a non-pushy, I’ll-just-leave-that-here kind of way. After which, it’s best to forget about trying to sell them things for a while and get on with the business of building a relationship with them. This is a long term strategy. Most readers have a big to read list and lots of books vying for their attention but the sooner you start, the sooner you will build up a rapport with them.

Work with other authors.

A group of people can be heard a lot more easily than one lone voice. That’s why authors often join together in groups and promote their books together. Target who you work with, make sure their books are in the same, or a similar, genre to yours so you are recommending the kind of things your readers are interested in.

It’s tempting to cast the net wide and go for numbers, but remember, you are aiming to bring together a group of readers who love your stuff and your genre. A huge list of 8,000 people sounds great but if only 100 of them open your newsletters you’re just wasting each other’s time. You’re building a fanbase, remember, and these are people, not Pokemon cards.

Once you’ve sorted some authors to work with, there are two main ways you can help each other:

  1. Individual Mailing Swaps. Find an author who writes similar books to you. Then organise it so they tell their readers about your book and you tell your readers about theirs. Caveat: Make EXTREMELY sure you’ve read their book before you approach them so you know you like it and can recommend it with confidence. Readers and authors alike will appreciate it if you write a quick review of the book and post it on some of the retail sites as well as in your newsletter.
  2. Group Promos. You can bundle the books by putting a page showing them all, with links to download them, on the website of one of the authors involved. Then you point people there, to browse and download the books that take their fancy.

Each author’s fans will discover new books to enjoy, while each author will be able to reach new readers. Bob’s your uncle. Happy readers, happy authors: win-win.

Making it easy for readers who want your book to download it.

This is where Instafreebie comes in handy. The whole point of their existence is to help readers find more books and help authors find more readers. Even better, gazillions* of authors and readers use them. That means it’s relatively straightforward to pull together groups of authors in similar genres who will join you in a promo. There are also organised promos you can join which you can find online in Facebook groups or places like kindleboards or Goodreads/Librarything groups.

Because Instafreebie want to introduce readers to new books it’s in their interest to reward authors who work at promoting their books. Keep passing the word on and your book or group author promo can get a mention in the Instafreebie newsletter – which will introduce a whole bunch of extra readers into the mix. On twitter they will often retweet about your promo, too, if you tag them #instafreebie.

There are two ways to use Instafreebie to distribute your free book as an author. If you are on a budget, you can use a free account to give your book away without collecting email addresses. If you put a link to sign up to your mailing list in the book, maybe in return for another one, or a short story or character profiles or the like, you will still get ‘organic’ sign ups but these will come more slowly.

Personally, I find it easier to have a paid Instafreebie account, and ask readers for their email address in return for their free book. If you do this, Instafreebie collects the addresses for you. When you’re done, you can either download the addresses from Instafreebie and add them to your mailing provider or you can join Instafreebie to your mailing service, choose a list and the addresses are automatically added for you. I really like this service.

* That’s a technical term.

Using Instafreebie for mailing integration.

I’m with Mailerlite and my paid Instafreebie account is linked directly to my Mailerlite account. You can do this with MailChimp too but they are a lot more expensive once you reach the paid tiers. At the moment, Instafreebie are doing a promo with Mailerlite so that Instafreebie paid account holders get a discount when they take out a paid subscription to Mailerlite. Mailerlite is free for the first 1,000 email subscribers but with full functionality so you can get a good feel for whether it will work for you.

It’s worth mentioning that Instafreebie are really good at letting you switch your account from paid to free so if you’ve no promotions planned for a while it’s easy to downgrade for a few months.

So once some readers have given their email addresses what then?

Woot! This is where you start to build a relationship with them. Start talking to them.

TO not AT, though, and act with integrity. After all, they trusted you with direct access to their email in box. That’s a big concession.

What to say to them.

Only you can answer this. Just be yourself, be genuine. Picture a good friend in your head. Got one? Good, now write your newsletter as if you’re talking to them. I try to always approach it like sending a letter to a friend.

Chat, ask questions, talk about books, share books you’ve read that you’ve loved. Give them things, previews of your work in progress, tell them interesting snippets you’ve discovered in your research, share jokes, silly names anything you like. Some of the most popular things I share with mine are quotes from my son, who is nine.

Experiment, with content, regularity, everything. I’ve tried sending newsletters weekly, monthly and every two weeks. As a general rule, my lot appear to like the personal stories and are happy with more links to click and a newsletter that arrives less often. Your readers may be different, the only way to find out is trial and error … oh and you can ask them from time to time as well. Google surveys is your friend!

Also, remember that if you want to turn intrigued readers into actual fans you must be patient.

Like any other relationship, an author’s rapport with her readers will take time to develop. This is especially true if lots of folks have downloaded your book. Give them time. If you force it, or expect them to instantly rush out and buy everything you’ve ever written you will be disappointed – and deservedly so.

That said, try not to fret when people unsubscribe. Far from making them ‘freebie hunters’, it’s more likely your book wasn’t their cup of tea. Be thankful for their honesty. There are few things more dispiriting than having a large email list and only a handful of engaged subscribers. It’s much better that folks who aren’t interested unsubscribe than that they sit there, costing you money, and never opening your emails!

But if you keep communicating, give your readers things they like and keep on writing books you will build a reader platform. And when you open your first email from someone thanking you for sending them a free book, or saying how much they loved it, it is a truly wonderful feeling.


Links.

If you think you’d like to give either Instafreebie or Mailerlite – or both – a whirl you can sign up using these links. NB, heads up, these are my associate links, so if anyone signs up to a paid account as a result of clicking these links, I get a voucher. If you’re not OK with that just delete everything that comes after the .com bit.


Instafreebie: https://www.instafreebie.com/authors?invite_code=CoufcgpalM


Mailerlite: https://www.mailerlite.com/invite/dd718ae601785

If you want a look at how it all works, you are welcome to view a giveaway I’m running right now, here:

https://www.instafreebie.com/free/QWCQM


Who is M T McGuire?

Well, you asked…

M T McGuire enjoys the real world but wouldn’t want to live here full time. That’s why she writes books. She grew up, or at least, got bigger, half way up a windy down in Sussex. Her home was also the first location choice for Hogwarts, in the Harry Potter films, so maybe it’s not so strange that she’s ended up writing spec-fic. Perhaps there’s something in the water up there, apart from chalk. She used to do stand up but sat down and started to write books when she got married. She now lives in Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk, with a McOther, a McMini, a McCat and a selection of very silly cars. She hasn’t found a way to make any of the cars fly like the ones in her books, and none of them is fitted with ordnance either, but she and her team of evil scientists are working on that.

Despite being nearly fifty now, and supposedly, an adult, M T checks all unfamiliar wardrobes for a gateway to Narnia. She hasn’t found one so far but she lives in hope.

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When the luck unicorn farts …

You’d better be ready.

Yes, smashing things are afoot, in writing world anyway, and for once it’s not me blundering into something and breaking it.

Escape From B-Movie Hell.

Something unusual and rather wonderful has happened this week, my book, Escape From B-Movie Hell has been accepted for a bookbub promotion.

Now, I can imagine you might be thinking,

‘Mmm yes MT,’ as you stifle a yawn, ‘but what does that have to do with me?’

Well, Bookbub is the mother of all promotion sites. You get your book featured on there and many, many folks will discover it. A Bookbub feature is one of the Holy Grails of authordom. Any author angling to have their book included will need a LOT of persistence, possibly in conjunction with aligned stars, the fumes of potent upwind unicorn farts, and a dash of fairy dust. But while the unicorns and fairies and proper authors were looking the other way it seems my book sneaked on!

What does this mean for you?

Well, if you want to read Escape From B-Movie Hell, then from sometime yesterday, 20th July, until Sunday, 23rd July, it’s going for a song.

Bookbub will be promoting my book to squazillions of people in India, Canada, Australia and the UK. And in return I reduce it to 99c, or p, or 65Rupees.

Now the squazillions don’t include anyone in the US, or RSA or New Zealand, which seemed unfair. So I’ve reduced it to the equivalent price in those places, too.

So there you go, if you are interested in reading it, click this link for more info and links to buy:

http://www.hamgee.co.uk/escape.html

There’s another thing I’d like to share with you. Today, I bring you a new word: the verb, ‘to bald’. McMini uses a lot of wonderfully bizarre language and this is one he came up with when I was talking to him the other today. He was talking about pretending to be a certain footballer, a fellow with a shiny round billiard ball of a head. No hair.

‘We balded ourselves and ran around shouting, “Goooooaaaaal!”‘ He told me.

The thing that made me laugh most was that I knew exactly what he meant straight away.

So there we are. If you have a LOT of hair, and you then sweep it back off back of your face and flatten it against your head, roll-on deodorant style, so that you can pretend you have no hair at all and show your giant forehead to the world, the technical term for your action is, apparently, ‘balding yourself’.

The baldest thing I could find at short notice.

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Meh and un-meh. Thoughts, ramblings and a progress report.

It’s confession time. I’ve been in a bit of a slump recently because we’ve reached a new stage in Dad’s illness and I’m still adjusting to the grimness. If someone you love has dementia then there will be stuff they say when you know it’s the illness speaking, rather than them. Over the last three of four months, Dad’s condition has deteriorated rapidly to the point where his illness is doing far more of the talking than he is. It’s been pretty stark.

On the upside, there have been a lot of big events in the family and among friends to keep me busy, although some of them are going through tough times too. But there’s been less down time and no more than a few hours in any of the last five weeks to plan, gather thoughts and generally sort myself out. If I’m a bit maudlin, this is usually good. The more I socialise and the more stuff I do, the less time I spend in the Slough of Despond. Also we all know the writer who wants to get stuff out of their head has to put stuff in. I even have a book cued up to read for the holidays. I think it’s called put your pants on, or possibly pull your pants off but it’s about finding ways to plan your writing more effectively. I’ll review it when I’m done!

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, hectic life. When things get too busy the time for everything else but the household chores disappears and trust me in this house, even they are a bit, er hem, rushed. Or neglected. Phnark. And my house is hardly a smoothly oiled machine at the best of times. I mean, it has McMini and me in it. But if there’s not even time for chores or the myriad stuff I have to remember for McMini’s school (sad stuff there too) I do tend to get a bit flustered. And guilty. And sad. And on top of already sad, that’s not good.

And what with the state of the world right now, and the shit we’re all in, I slightly feel that if I can’t say anything positive it’s best not to say anything at all. Hence the significant lack of posts on here and the shockingly low quality of my email newsletters. Sorry anyone reading who also receives my emails. The interesting stories will return. Soon.

Because I’ve realised something.

It’s time to have a word with myself!

So, first of all, I apologise if my posts and emails seem faux jolly, as if I’m going through the motions (when they appear at all). In a sense, they are and I am. But it’s important that I continue writing them. A huge part of the trick of managing life-grimness, for me, is to keep on keeping on. The small every day things become harder and harder to do, but doing them anchors you in reality, in normality, and stops you from floating away into some kind of mad disjointed netherworld of despair. That’s why I write, of course. Because – don’t laugh – writing all this stuff that is madder than a box of frogs keeps the rest of me sane and grounded.

Keep calm and carry on. That’s my life and I’m this bloke.

Right, that’s that off my chest, let us move swiftly on to other things.

News

Mmm. The 10k short is with the editor, although she has RSI and due to the vagaries of the power companies where she lives she is currently in the process of going off grid – ie switching to solar – so I’m not sure when it will come back. Which reminds me, I must look and see if there was anything I was meant to be doing to it.

Meanwhile, McMini’s birthday party is finally in the bag so I must do an invite. It’d be much easier to draw one but the lamp in my scanner has gone so I suspect I will be doing something with clip art. Oh dear. He and 9 other little darlings are going to do den building and fire building in a local park. Luckily I have help in the form of my friend Jill so if it all goes tits up at least we can laugh about it later.

With this and the rest of the holidays fast approaching my writing may well slow but I’m going to try and do the 20 minutes a day thing because that worked really well.  Whatever happens, I will be doing some reading. Both the aforementioned keep your pants on book and one of my own for editing/developmental purposes. I’m 40k into a 60k novel. It’s not my greatest work because I’m experimenting with keeping both my plots and my books simpler and shorter so I can sell them cheaper. However, it’s not bad and I think it could well be better by the time I’m done with it.

If the pants book helps I hope to be doing a bit of outlining over the holidays. There have also been more developments with the one about the ex gigolo space dustman who lives on P deck. I’ve been working out how he gets there – I think that will be a long short that I can give away to folks who join my mailing list (or who are already on the other one). Also working on how he gets his ship – I think he builds it from scrap but I’m not sure. It may be a lease ship. And how Admiral Ash, the female lead, ends up being de-thawed from her stasis pod. Thinking she might be in his ship with him now, rather than in space. Depends if he builds it from spare parts. I also need to draw a cover for Jump because I can’t afford a proper one. I should be able to use the scanner in my parents’ printer for that one but the invite is more time critical. It has to go into school tomorrow because it’s the last week.

On the eyebombing book front. I am slowly getting there with working out kickstarter layers. It’s really hard to do because I have no cash so it has to be benefits in kind, like taking them for an eyebombing walk, so I’m scratching my head about international sponsors at the moment. All I can give them is books and their name in the front. I have to get about £15 for each book to be able to afford to have it printed and send it to them. Thinking this might have to be more of a local endeavour. We shall see. Might have to look at a different size too. I was going to do stocking filler 6″x6″.

Also, if anyone’s thinking of forking out for Escape From B-Movie Hell hold off, I’ll have some good news for you on that front next week!

That’s all for now, pipple toot!

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This week, I have been mostly thinking about #marketing #bookmarketing #indiereads

Oh yes I have.

Several things got me started, Tricia Drameh’s post:
https://authortriciadrammeh.wordpress.com/2017/05/28/become-a-millionaire-selling-books-on-amazon-or-not/,
Then something similar on Chuck Wendig’s blog about giving books time to ferment:
http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2017/05/30/dear-writers-a-book-needs-time-to-cook/
And following on from that, a post doing the round on kindleboards:
http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,252168.0.html about what makes a 6 figure author.

Chuck Wendig’s words about letting books cook particularly rang true with me since I temporarily abandoned a new series I was working on recently, in order to try writing simpler shorter stories that are easier to handle with all the other shit that’s going down. The second of these; Jump, is a story about The Pan of Hamgee and it’s with the smashing editor now. The first has turned into a novel; 40k and rising, so it’s unfinished as yet.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with what I’m saying but it adds colour and makes the Facebook post more interesting.

However, while I was working on all these other projects, the new series cooked away quietly in the background and has really begun to crystallise. My hero is now a one-legged, muscle-bound ex gigolo with scar down one side of his face. He was working on Terra, the capital planet of the system, serving a niche market: rich trophy wives who wanted to pretend they were being ravished by an orc, only in the safety of their own homes by an orc who is keen to ensure they enjoy the experience. Naturally, he is very careful about who his clients are and insists any ladies who are attached tell their other halves – this is a different planet remember so most of them regard it as a nice thing for the wife to do, a bit of recreation that saves them a job.

Unfortunately, despite his precautions, he is stitched up by an angry husband. It’s not relevant to the plot really, it’s just his background but it’s how he ends up in the Salvage Zone, trawling the asteroid belt for space garbage to pay off his debts, and living on stinky P-Deck next to the Sewage Processing Plant in the Orion Space Station. Meanwhile my heroine has been in stasis for four million years and is currently floating around deep space in a box but she’s heading for the asteroid belt and guess who’s going to find her. It’s all stuff that wasn’t there, and has only arrived since I’ve left the story stewing. And it made me think that maybe, for the most part, I’m not letting my books cook for long enough – don’t laugh I know they take 2 years each but sod it, I’m working faster these days, the first one took 13. And my point is, there are bits of the new series that I could write down straight away, and I can see the characters so clearly in my head. It wasn’t like that before I gave up on it temporarily.

To get back on topic, I suppose what I’m saying is that it takes a while to tease my stuff out from being random fragments of ideas to something coherent with a point – not to mention a plot. Unfortunately, the marketing strategy that appears to work best: high volume, low price – mass production if you will – is untenable for authors such as myself, whose books, for whatever reason, take time. But does that mean we will never succeed? Well, thinking about it, the ebook thing probably hasn’t been going on long enough to know with any certainty. However, through my own mistakes and total unsuitability to the author career thing I have learned some stuff the hard way which I will share with you now.

To write to market or not to write to market? That is the question.

I spent too much time trying to be this guy. Yep, there’s me wanting to make my own way home when I should have hailed a taxi like all the others.

Actually, it’s probably not. Somewhat naively, I set out to write the kind of book I always wanted to read that didn’t exist yet. The reasoning was simple, I believed that if I liked my books other people would. While this might make sound creative sense, I’m beginning to suspect it’s commercial anathema.

The thing is, by very din’t of being an author I’m probably already several bricks short of a hod, all authors are. Therefore, we have to accept that what floats our boat is likely to have about as much appeal to the rest of the reading public as taking a lava shower! So over my five books and eight year writing career, I’ve learned that there’s a very good reason why the books I always wanted to read don’t exist. And that reason is that nobody else actually wants to read them. It doesn’t matter if they’re good, or even if people like them once they’ve read them. The point is, they don’t appeal initially so it takes a long time (if at all) for anyone to pick them up and start reading.

Sure, I still want to believe I’m an outlier but I have to accept that it looks unlikely. So my advice is that anyone who wants to write for financial gain should avoid genre mashing and make at least a cursory nod to market tropes when they start writing. Because I’m beginning to think that what people actually want to read is lots of versions of the same book, but slightly different, again and again.

Maybe what an author should ask herself, starting out, is this: are you going to write what you want to write or to make money? Maybe the folks who succeed in this game are the ones who manage to combine the two.

Ebooks have an eternal shelf life.

What!!!!? You are shitting me!!!

Bollocks they do!

Why do so many of the writers who are more like robots, or able to stop time, or who’ve made a pact with the devil or have supersonic typing hands (or something) absolutely insist that for success you must spew out a book every three months, like a Canada Goose crapping every 90 seconds on the grass of a London park?* I’ll tell you why, ‘the 90 day cliff’. After 90 days, there are various lists and initiatives on book retailers that your book will be removed from, lists and initiatives that get a LOT of traffic. Ebook or not, your work has a 90 day shelf life the same as a book in the shops because that’s what the algorithms on the book sites give it. Yep, just like the old days.

However, where there is a difference is that once someone reads your new book, the others are all there for them to find via the other books by links if they want to read the rest of your back catalogue. So they won’t be going out of print.

Know yourself, and understand your product. If your books were cars what would yours be?

This is not a quality issue, it’s more a case of are your books abundant or are they … rare.

Are your books one of these?

So most of the really big indie authors have a big backlist, or they are releasing books at the rate of knots. I have no idea how they do this, c.f. Mr Wendig’s remarks about books cooking. I need more books in the pot, I suspect. However, the point is, what they’re doing is the same thing as a company like Ford. Good product, high volume of production, low price and low profit per item but the millions sold make up for that. The high volume, low profit model is the best and easiest way to make cash doing anything. However it usually requires a big outlay up front; you have to make a lot of product before you start to earn your profits or spend a lot on advertising. Basically, you’ll have to bankroll your overheads with something for the three or four months it takes for the profits to a) turn up and b) actually reach you. Most arenas of consumer goods selling are similar. Why do you think there are so many huge companies that own everything? Yep. That’s right.

THIS is what the Kickstarter campaign will be about for my eyebombing book. Buying enough copies up front to get a low, low unit price and paying for production and design costs.

Or maybe your books are more like one of these …

Or you can do it another way. Because if you write one 200k, meticulously researched historical novel every three years, it is very difficult for you to be Ford. Sure you can do some shorts but it’s still tricky, even those take time. So you have to pitch yourself as Aston Martin, a premium product, hand crafted and painstakingly produced over a period of years, by craftspeople. And you have to make your unit price higher because, theoretically, there’s more ‘work’ in each one and there are less units produced.

Low volume, high profit margin.

This is the way I should go and have not gone. This also means that on sites like Kobo, you will be more likely to be accepted for a promotion or sale since a reduction from £6.99 to £1.99 is much more attractive than a reduction of £3.99 down to £1.99. If you try this with me though, you want to make sure you don’t get into a DFS situation, where you have so many sales that anyone who buys your books for  standard price is a mug. It’s also tricky to make the switch if you’ve been selling your books for reasonably low volume prices. Especially if your books are neither bespoke niche nor mass produced but something more like this …

Yes … we all think it looks cool but does anyone actually want one?

If you’re a natural Aston or er hem, grass covered ute, can you turn yourself into a successful Ford?

Sighs … I wish I knew.

Over time I’ve been writing books, it’s become painfully clear to me that if a person enjoys – if that’s the right word – the levels of demand upon their time and emotional energy that I do, trying to write stuff at anything approaching a sensible rate of output for a high volume low profit production model is extremely difficult. The more I see of this, the more I realise it is about four things:

  1. You need to be a reasonably prolific author in the first place – I actually am, I write a lot in the time I have there just isn’t much time available.
  2. You must be time-rich, or exceptionally good at making time, sleep like Margaret Thatcher (4 hours a night) and be extremely emotionally stable and/or emotionally robust so the difficult times don’t throw you off your game.
  3. Another thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of the folks doing well are extremely well organised; either with their marketing or their writing or both. So I think if you’re the kind of person who spends three quarters of each day looking for your keys, glasses, phone, trying to remember your own name etc, you’re probably stuffed, or at least, you’re going to have to work harder. So yeh, six figure authors appear to be ruthlessly efficient with their time.
  4. They are flexible. They seem to react swiftly to new developments in the market.

That, there, is not everyone’s personality or life. But then, not every car is mass produced. Aston Martin are successful, right?

Oh blimey! I only write one book every three years, what can I do? I’m stuffed!

Is your book a lemon?

Well, perhaps not. So don’t panic! Not yet, anyway.

Even though I know my life circumstances render a career pretty much dead in the water it seems that hope springs eternal. If you, like me, still keep trying and keep on writing because you have to, I sympathise. I’m an authorholic, completely addicted, and I really can’t stop so if that’s you, too (and I suspect there are plenty of you out there, c.f. my earlier statement that most authors are a bit nuts) welcome to authorholics anonymous.

Slow authors can up their rate of production a bit by writing shorter books, and folks like me, who’ve been selling at the wrong price point for years can then put the shorter books at a lower price point so at least people with less cash to flash still have something to read.

But I have stuffed the marketing up a bit. Quite a lot, actually. It’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing. I was a marketing manager with a household name here in the UK. But I’ve still managed to build a base of readers who are almost certainly expecting something very different to what I’m offering, and a stable of four books that, are a really hard sell and one that is a complete and utter dud. I’m not talking about whether people love them, they do, but getting them to read the darned things is properly difficult!

Yep.

Frankly, if I was still a marketing manager, I’d sack me.

What have I learned from my many mistakes?

Lots, so here are some of the many things that I’ve learned the hard way so that you don’t have to:

  1. Despite being as ancient as the hills the best and most reliable way to keep direct contact with your audience still appears to be a mailing list. You just have to make damned sure it’s worthwhile and interesting.
  2. After a certain point, mailing lists cost money. That means you need to make sure you know how many books you will have to sell each month to cover your costs. You should also aim to pick your mailing service provider very carefully and keep an eye on the market so you can jump ship if another cheaper provider pops up who provides as high a level of service for less. I started with Mailchimp because the deal breaker was automation. However, MailerLite do automation now so I’ve just bought a year with them for the price of two months with MailChimp. I will keep a free MailChimp account but I am moving pretty much everything.
  3. This is a crowded market so it’s worth factoring that in. Things may take longer to happen than you expect: So if you are giving away your books with a view to people signing up to your mailing list, reading your free books and buying the others it’s worth noting that lead times have extended. I am now allowing four years, from sign up, to them actually reading the book and buying another one. That is how crowded the market is. When I started my list, odds are that 10,000 readers would be enough to get a newly launched book doing well enough to get some traction on the book sites. I’d say it may be more like 20,000 now, unless I’m launching in a couple of years when more of my lovely peps will have had time to read the free books I gave them. But I may just be really bad at this. Phnark!
  4. Plan for the long haul. On the whole, I think the only part of the multi-million sellers stuff I do well is reacting to new developments. The trouble is, my time constraints being what they are, I will always be behind the curve by the time I implement anything, even if I am one of the first to start.
  5. Write. Keep writing. Because the deal breakers seem to be volume of books as well as speed of output. If you can’t do speed go for eventual volume. Even if you only write two words today, they’re two words that weren’t there yesterday. It all adds up.
  6. Mix things up! If you write long expensive books try writing some shorter, less expensive books. If you write books that you love which are a hard sell, maybe try writing some that adhere strictly to one genre. If you’re writing the book equivalent of an Aston Martin remember that just like the real thing, not everyone can afford one. Shorts are good here. I’m currently trying to lob some 1970s Fiat 500s into the M T McGuire literary mix.
  7. Be realistic about what you want. Sure I’d love to make it big, but my real ambition for my writing is simply to earn enough from the books I have on sale to be able to produce the next one. I haven’t. But it seems to me that the trick is to just keep on keeping on and quietly dropping books out there into the void.
  8. Accept that sometimes, your principles may hold you back. I loathe the current fashion for having thin attractive women on book covers and I’m not overly keen on ripped man torsos either. I believe it is damaging to people who are not stick thin or ripped. I have banged on about this before so I won’t do it again, but I suspect the fact I refuse to feature idealised humans on my covers or keep the colour scheme to black plus one other may well explain why my sales in fantasy – which used to be good – are now even more piss poor than my risible showing in sci-fi.

Do us folks who write a little bit slower than the speed of continental drift stand a chance?

You know what, I sincerely hope so. The nearest successful author to me I can find – or at least the nearest in outlook – writes 4 or 5 books a year. She has been a midlister for sometime but I’d say her career has really taken off this year. She’s practical and no-nonsense and her advice to those like us would be to get the mailing list going, a website, a blog (possibly) and write. Because she says, again and again, that her income rises with the number of books in her back catalogue. She says you don’t have to be writing best sellers all the time if you have enough decent books in your backlist because each person who reads one will read them all. As the number of books grows, your sales grow and your author ‘score’ on the retail sites grows. There may yet be a chance for us molluscs to creep into profitability through the back door.

So that’s what I’m going to do. Keep writing books and see. Because it takes as long as it takes; and that applies to both success, on whatever level I judge it, and writing the books.

Relax and enjoy the journey.

The most important thing is to relax and enjoy the journey.

All we slow writers can do is put the framework in place and hope that after ten or twenty years, when we have twelve plus books in the ether, the chance to earn a decent living from our work will still be there for us.

*Factoid Alert: I’m afraid this is actually true.

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This week, I am mostly ranting about … everything

STOP! There is swearing.

Aroogah! Aroogah!

Let’s kick off with a profanity warning: there will be some.

There.

So if you don’t like the F word, do not read this. Especially do NOT read this all the way though and then complain it’s full of swearing or I will flipping well lamp you. And if you’re a bit iffy about swearing, but can cope, you’re probably alright for most of this post but you will want to avoid the song at the end.

_________________________________

OK, if we’re all sitting comfortably, I’ll begin.

Right now, I feel a bit like this. Not crap exactly, just a bit … blergh … or possibly meh.

The fact is, while I think I might be quite loving, I doubt I’m a very nurturing person. I seem to be bad at caring for people. I need too much space and time alone to get my head together and that is not conducive to surrendering any sizeable amounts of your life to the needs of others, however many times the head says go, the heart sometimes says … well, not no exactly because it’s willing … more like, can’t.

But obviously, I have to. Can’t isn’t one of the options. I have a commitment and it’s nothing close to what most people have to put up with, but the mental and emotional energy it takes to do the negligible amount I do for my parents seems to be disproportionately huge when I add it to the other commitment of being a mum.

This week there was a small blip. Mum and Dad have some living aids in their house that they pay for on lease. It started last week, when they had a call asking if they still wanted all of it, and thinking it was cold callers Mum told the company to take everything way.

Yesterday, I get a panicked call saying, ‘They’re taking the red alarm button, and the alarm that goes off when your Dad gets out of his seat, stop them!’

Except I was at kid’s church, with McMini, so my brother got the call, and mistaking the carer’s phone number for a friend’s, and being in the middle of ‘Comedy Club’ – he’s a teacher and yes, it’s an extra curricular activity at his school – he proceeded to show the boys and girls a thing or two about the art of mimicry. In this case, by answering the call in his impression of David Bellamy (it’s absolutely tip top, I have to hand it to him; imagine a version of Lenny Henry in white, that’s my brother). He then suddenly had to transform to serious, which probably taught the kids far more about comic timing than anything he could have actually planned. I’m still getting giggleback about it though. Mwah hahahargh! I swear I couldn’t make this shit up! And if I did, I’d be panned for making it unrealistic.

So, as McMini and I left the service and I turned my phone on I got a call from my brother. Cue frantic ringing round and I got a company name and a number to ring. After a night stewing, I spent the next day ringing round to get to the bottom of it. Turns out that what we’re paying only covers a fraction of what is in the house. None of us know how we’ve had all this stuff for a year for free but they seem OK with that so long as we pay the full whack from now on or just keep the things we’re actually paying for. Mum remembers their call but didn’t understand what they were talking about.

As the cost of leasing the other stuff is a fair bit, 6 month’s rental is about the same cost of new equipment, I bought replacements for the bits that we hadn’t been paying for which arrived the following day, during my visit, so I was able to install those. The engineer came out to put the other stuff back the following day, too, so all is now peachy. In addition, I explained to them that Mum has dementia too and they will now ring me with any enquiries. I found out some useful stuff, too, like where the heck we got the seat and bed alarm from and whether we are leasing it or own it outright! I had no clue and if Mum ever had, she doesn’t now. So that was a bit of a bonus, even if the method of delivery was less than fun.

Anyway, on the Tuesday, after I’d organised this, I turned to the clock and, joy unbounded, I had a hour left before school run time in which to write. I’d had to send a form declaring my parents have dementia to get the VAT back on the stuff I’d ordered so I’d  photographed it and emailed it off. Needless to say, the moment I sat down at my computer, the company contacted me to say I’d done it wrong so I had to quickly do another one. Then at last, with 20 minutes in hand, which is 400-800 words if I concentrate, I sat down to write.

And I couldn’t.

I was just mentally dead. My mojo had flown and, indeed, it’s been AWOL all week. I like to think it’s pissed off on a drunken bender and will crawl back to me in the equivalent of the wee hours (next week sometime, probably) slurring,

‘I’m sho sorry. I really am. Are you angry with me? Schay you’re not angry with me. I love you Mary, I really really love you, hurrgh bleargh [splat]. etc.’

My mojo is the one on the right. Don’t look at the stain on the carpet or you’ll know I’m a slattern – as well as foul mouthed.

However, I also fear it may be sobbing in a corner somewhere so I have made the odd effort to find it. I managed about 400 words where I knew what was going to happen and just needed to describe it, in my time after sorting the crisis, no creativity required. You know, when you have to get a character from one part of the house to another kind of thing and they walk through a hall which you need to describe, briefly, for later. That kind of thing but there was still no sign of the mojo. Whatever it’s doing, I hope it comes back refreshed.

After that I threw in the towel and heated up some filter coffee, wrote a shopping list of the things I needed to get for supper on the way home with McMini and set off to pick him up from school. We walked home, past the supermarket.

Did I remember to go in and get the shopping?

Did I bollocks?

Did I remember before we’d walked all the way home? Of course not.

The distance I am away from the thing I’ve forgotten is directly proportional to the amount of knee pain I am experiencing at the time. Needless to say, I remembered as we walked into the house, so we had to turn around and go back up the hill. The only positive I can take away from this is that despite my temptation to turn the air blue with invective, the worst word that escaped me was, ‘sperm.’

Snortle.

Yes I said, ‘Oh … sperm!’

Mwahahahaharaargh!

But hey, at least I didn’t say, ‘shit! or fu-beep! or cu-aroooogah.’

Back we trudged, got the stuff, came home. I had to make biscuits with McMini, because I’d promised, even though we didn’t really have time and I was shattered and just wanted to sit down. Then I prepared the veg and the bits of supper I was cooking. According to my fitbit I did two miles back and forth around the house. I just finished in time to squeeze in a quick shower before we ate.

The following day, I did the Sussex run. It wasn’t quite such a good visit, they were both tired, indeed Mum fell asleep over her dinner prompting Dad to shout for me because he was afraid she’d died (bless), and they were less on form, but I did, at least, cheer them up and the carer was around when Dad filled his Tena boots this week, not me. Result!

And this is why I find the care thing difficult. Not because I don’t want to do it. It’s not like it would cross my mind to do anything else. Lord knows they’ve looked after me and now it’s my turn to look after them. I love going to see them because they are hilarious and they are still great fun. Even with the short term memories of a pair of goldfish they are like pied pipers of people – and it’s not as if the memory loss is very noticeable because neither of them has ever been able to find their keys, well … OK the lack of memory is showing with Dad now but he’s got away with it for 12 years.

They are wonderfully, gloriously eccentric and everyone who crosses their path is drawn in, grows to love them, grows to care for them. It is really extraordinary to watch, and kind of cool. Everyone always has, but then, they have always been dynamos in the community, caring for people, visiting them, looking after the elderly the sick and the lonely – even people who are alone for a jolly good reason – and generally just being epic. They’ve had a tramp to stay for the night and Mum has saved two people’s lives that I know of, while Dad, as a teacher, has shaped countless others. They are still working their magic and I want to make the most of it. Likewise, McMini is a gem so I’m not giving up on any of my mum time either.

In short, I wouldn’t do this any differently, I just get frustrated, sometimes, that I seem unable to do anything else as well.

FFS …

The events of those 36 hours sorting the alarms etc pretty much lobotomised the rest of my brain until I sorted it out, and then left it shagged well beyond functionality for some days afterwards. Perhaps that what pre menopausal dementedness comes to when added to the dementedness of the pre menopausal dementia sufferer’s actually, properly, demented parents, and everyone has a little bit of a go, and nobody remembers what in the name of Pete they did.

See how smart he looks? Yeh, that’s a lot smarter than I feel.

Who knows. But I have more and more admiration for people who have no cash to pay for care, who have to look after sick family members 24 hours a day, with no breaks, no let ups. How do they cope? How do they catch a bus or pay a bill or organise a fart in bed with that going on full time? Blimey, I have trouble stringing two sentences together and I don’t have it like them. They must be fucking saints. I have been trying to channel my inner saint. However, he is clearly not like theirs. It is quite clear to me that my saint is like those early hermits; you know, the kind of guy who sat on top of a pillar for 40 years in the desert without speaking – except to shout angry obscenities at anyone who came near so they’d fuck off again – probably while throwing handfuls of his own faeces at them.

And I also have a huge admiration for people who earn a living as carers. They don’t earn that much, and they take a serious amount of flack. My dad gets properly shouty sometimes, usually when he’s feeling undignified. He was heaping invective on the carer on Wednesday, as she changed his tena pants and she was just calm and kind and sweet with him. We all knew he was only shouting because he felt humiliated and wanted it to be over, but there’s a difference between knowing that and not letting it get to you. In her place, I’d have told him to get knotted.

Sometimes, I get how Dad might feel though, why he might be shouty! Jeez I feel like that a lot of the time. There is so much administriviatative shite to do and there are days I want to tell life to just piss off and leave me alone! It wasn’t helped by the fact I had multiple trouser failure this weekend and with one pair left – in the wash – I had to go buy more. All my trousers are through at the arse because I’ve been waiting until the effing shops came up with a choice that was wider than black, black, denim, denim or denim, dark blue or white. Although I do usually like to have one pair of dark blue canvas jeans, but I don’t wear them as much as the others. Indeed they’re not through at the arse, but the zip’s bust. Even so, finding anything else … it’s like the Monty Python Spam sketch.

‘Don’t complain darling, I love black, I’m buying black, black, black, black and black.’

‘Well bully for you but you can sod off! I’m not. I don’t wear black if I can avoid it and certainly not every day.’

I did find a pair of red trousers in H&M but they were three quarter length with faux rips in. I’m too old for faux rips and I’ll knacker them myself soon enough. Then I found some lovely pink ones but only in three quarter length. That said, I have hopes that the pink three quarter lengths may turn up in longs before the year is out. The gentleman in the shop thought they would. Even so, let’s chalk that up as another thing that can piss off! Fashion. I put ‘coloured jeans’ into google and I got a whole load of black, dark blue, denim and white trousers.

‘WHITE AND BLACK ARE NOT FUCKING COLOURS YOU BLIND BASTARDS!’ I shouted, making the cat jump.

Do you mind keeping it down? I’m trying to relax here.

On the upside, despite spending a whole morning looking for trousers, I did manage to replace the three pairs of threadbare-arsed winter trousers I own which haven’t quite gone through. Rock on Mistral’s basement outlet section. And there was me thinking it was a trendy shop for young thin people with no tits! Mwah hahahargh! But I was wrong. I got three pairs of moleskin trousers in light green, wedgewood blue and maroon for £7 a pop. A saving of £105 I think it was. They’re a bit flarey so I’ll have to take them in a little but never mind. Every cloud has a silver lining. I shall return there. Oh yes I will.

Swings and roundabouts, but the mental theme of the entire week in MTM land has definitely been, Fuck Off World!

And when I get like that, I often turn the work of Ian Dury because he was really very good at FOW but in the kind of amusing way that makes it faceable again.

For this particular malaise, a dose of one particular song, ‘Fucking Ada’, does wonders. I suspect it’s not really about a never ending quest for time to think, or the ensuing burn out, or at least not, per se. I should imagine it’s either about the failure of a relationship, or the humiliation of being unable to perform at a one night stand after a culmination of too many one night stands, too many drugs, too much alcohol and altogether too much rock and roll. It could be about depression, too. It could be about all of those things.

Bollocks to that though, because there are sections that perfectly sum up that FOW feeling. And when I’m sad, and angry with myself for not being able to bounce back, and I want the world to just bugger off and leave me alone – not indefinitely, but just for just ten sodding minutes so I can complete a thought – this song is a peach.

There are few things as cathartic as shouting along with Ian for a few minutes. Just make sure the kids are out and you don’t have the windows open. Here it is for your delectation. Words first, vid second.

Fucking Ada, by Ian Dury and the Blockheads

Moments of sadness, moments of guilt
Stains on the memory, stains on the quilt
Chapter of incident, chapter and verse
Sub-heading chronic, paragraph worse

Lost in the limelight, backed in the blaze
Did it for nine pence, those were the days
Give me my acre and give me my plough
Tell me tomorrow, don’t bother me now

Fucking Ada, fucking Ada
Fucking Ada, fucking Ada

Time’s at a distance, time’s without touch
Greed forms the habit of asking to much
Followed at bedtime by builders and bells
Wait til the doldrums which nothing dispels

Idly, mentally, doubtful and dread
Who runs with the beans shall not stale with the bread
Let me lie fallow in dormant dismay
Tell me tomorrow, don’t bother today

Fucking ada, fucking ada
Fucking ada, fucking ada

Tried like a good un, did it all wrong
Thought that the hard way was taking to long
Too late for regret or chemical change
Yesterday’s targets have gone out of range

Failure enfolds me with clammy green arms
Damn the excursions and blast the alarms
For the rest of what’s natural Ill lay on the ground
Tell me tomorrow if I’m still around

Fucking Ada, fucking Ada (ad nauseam)

S0ngwriters: Ian Robins Dury, John George Turnbull

Well, back to running with the beans … It’s Friday and it’s about blummin’ time I wrote something. Well, something other than this gargantuan rant, I mean book something, and hey, I’ve twenty minutes left this week.

In the meantime, here’s the video.

Don’t forget to sing along now.

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Mailing lists: the all embracing panacea or the hamster wheel of doom?

As you know, I’ve been writing books and attempting to sell the results since about 2010. I still think my books are good. I think the books I’m writing at the moment will be good too – or at least as good as I can make them and good by my standards, ie they’ll be more of the kinds of stories I’d like to read but that don’t exist.

However, for all my efforts, I’d be lying if I said I was doing well as an author, but the fact I write the books I want to read, rather than what ‘the market’ is after could be posing a problem there.

Originally, in the absence of a following to ask, my marketing strategy went like this.

‘Hey Sensible M T I’m going to write a book.’
‘Great plan Ditzy M T. What about?’
‘I’m going to write the books that I’ve always wanted to read but no-one has ever written.’
‘Is that a good idea Ditzy M T?’
‘Of course it is Sensible M T.’
‘But, if people wanted to read them, wouldn’t someone else have written them?’
‘No Sensible M T, I believe I have spotted a niche.’
‘Oh yeh?’
‘Yeh. I’m a person, I’m bog standard, so surely whatever I want to read will be something a whole group of other people like me want to read too, right?’
‘You think there are other people like you?’
‘Of course.’

Unfortunately, Sensible M T is correct. People like me are rather rarer than I anticipated so it’s taking me a bit of time to build an audience … and I think a lot of folks are getting mailing list fatigue, which is understandable, but a pity. Although at least, now, there are enough folks following my writing for me to be able to ask them what they’d like: hence the K’Barthan shorts, and there will be some, I promise once I’ve finished the K’Barthan accidentally long I’m working on – that’s hit 50k today, by the way. I have a nice properly short story brewing about how The Pan ended up jumping off the bridge (he mentions it to Ruth in the second book).

We’re on the road to nowhere!

As the Talking Heads said (blimey this is getting a bit Alan Partridge). But I do feel that I am running faster and faster to stay in the same place. Sales are a bit … well

That’s right. Pants.

Looking at my sales spreadsheet over the last umpteen years, I can’t help but notice that I am putting in more and more effort to achieve the same results. This last month, April 2017 if you’re reading this 400 years from now in a post apocalyptic world where electricity and computers have only just been reinvented, was one of the worst on record. It was the first time more than two days passed between book sales, for me, since 2013. Then came this month, gulp. There were several big blocks of four or five days when I didn’t sell a thing. The total earnings are £30. The lowest month for ages. Naturally, I thought I’d see if I could find out why.

First up, I tried a different type of mailing promo last month and it’s too early to tell if it’s worked yet. Second, the month before that, I didn’t do a promo. That’s two very compelling explanations, right there. But is there more.

Looking at onward sales I discovered these lovely factoids:

  • There are 4,247 people on my mailing list.
  • They have bought a maximum of 662 copies of the K’Barthan Series books in a combination of books 3 and 4  at $4.99 a pop (sales are about level pegging which is a good sign) or the box set at $7.99.
  • I’ve sold about 400 copies of book 2 since I started all this free book malarky – even though I give it away free to folks who join my mailing list.
  • That said, about 750 have bought Unlucky Dip, the short story, for 99c.
  • On the day of launch only 14 people bought the K’Barthan Box set.
  • Only 280 have bought Escape From B-Movie Hell.
  • If I take just one group of 1,000 mailing list members, I can see that 280 of them clicked on the links to find out more about the paid books when I emailed them about it. That’s actually not bad.
  • After three quarters of a year, or thereabouts, I survey my mailing list peps. You’d be amazed how many answer the ‘did you enjoy the books’ style question with, ‘I haven’t read them yet.’ Even after eight months or so some of them are clearly a little nettled to be even asked.
  • A couple of folks have joined my mailing list and then emailed me to say they downloaded the book two or three years ago, never got around to reading it and are really glad they have this time – there’s even a review that says that!

What do these pieces of information tell me?

  1. That I should be writing more short stories. Hmm.
  2. That information pages I send them to about each book on my website need an overhaul.
  3. That the books might be too expensive.
  4. Or that people are feeling a bit, what’s the point? about brexit and our impending ecological and nuclear doom and don’t want to shell out for a book any more.
  5. It reinforces the argument that a higher rate of output comprising shorter books at a lower cost is probably the way to go – I’m thinking 50k for $2.99 and 10/20k for 99c/p maybe. At least I have to have something between 99c and $4.99 – currently there’s only the stand alone.
  6. That if I’m smart, some or all of the future books I write should be about K’Barth.
  7. That anyone on my mailing list who is interested in reading the K’Barthan Series had already done so, with knobs on, when the box set came out and that any who might be weren’t ready.
  8. That folks who are interested in reading the second K’Barthan book often buy it straight after reading the first one, they don’t wait four days to get it free. That’s great because clearly they’re into it.
  9. That, in turn, could tell me that people who are less worried about money purchase my books and perhaps this is more evidence for shorter books that I could sell at a more accessible price for folks with less disposable income.
  10. That I need to make it clearer to people that they can borrow my books from libraries – but they have to ask because the librarian won’t have bought them (I’m not famous and not a sure bet). In short, I need to make sure that they realise that they can get access to my books, even if they are cash strapped.
  11. That the average reader has a to-read list that is well over 8 months long and reads the books in order.
  12. That while I have always assumed that a fair few of the people on my mailing list won’t have read my books 7/8ths is quite a lot higher than I expected.
  13. That the read through rate is only as high as 7/8ths if every single person who has bought K’Barthan book 3 and 4 in whatever format is on my mailing list, which I doubt.
  14. That the percentage of people who are actually reading the book I give away is gob smackingly low. Nowhere near the 20% I thought it was (going on Amazon downloads of the free book and totting up subsequent copies of the next books sold in 2015.
  15. That, possibly, the people who do read the book I give away in return for their email address are the ones who read it straight after downloading it. This could explain why they zip through the first book in a couple of days and then get stuck right into the rest of them rather than waiting for the free second book.
  16. That until a couple of years have passed, I won’t really know the results of my efforts to upsell since it will be a very long time before many folks get to the first book.
  17. For the long haul tbr people, at least regular mailings from me will keep them in touch and help them not to forget about my books.

What about the risible rate of earnings?

Hmm… what about it? More factoids.

  • It was 70% down on my £100 monthly average.
  • The worst since February 2015 when I had 70 friends and family on my mailing list and hadn’t worked out about permafrees with optimised listings – which worked then.
  • It is in keeping with the time of year. The worst month for sales always seems to happen in spring: Feb, March, April or May.
  • As I mentioned, it may be down to the choice of giveaway book in April.
  • I didn’t do much in the way of promo in March.
  • There has been no uptick in sales at the beginning of May, usually at the start of a month there is.

What does this tell me?

  1. That net worth of my efforts to upsell my other books from information I give on my mailing list is currently worth £30, or thereabouts, from an average £100. Possibly. But I’ll never really know for sure.
  2. That it’s very important to have a promo planned every month.
  3. That you need to be lot more savvy these days, and do a lot more to get your books in front of people, to achieve the same results you could have done with less effort a year ago. Mwah hahaharhgh so nothing new there!
  4. That promos do drive sales.
  5. That the merit of giving folks a second book as well as the original freebie they downloaded might be debatable. Is it getting read by many folks? Difficult to tell but it looks unlikely. Then again, I won’t really know until the long haul people kick in (if they do).
  6. That if I give the short away as a second book, instead, it might get more people reading because it’s accessible, but it might people off because it’s crap.

It could be that I am gaining a lot of new mailing list followers, but very few readers. But just as easily, it could be that I will need to wait at least a year before a big proportion of the folks on my mailing list get round to reading any of my books. Only time will tell.

So? Patience young paduan?

Yeh, looks like it. It takes a lot of time and effort to sort out my mailings, find interesting things to include or fun stories to tell. But, clearly when I join the right kinds of promos folks are downloading and enjoying the first book in the K’Barthan Series, it’s just catching them while they’re still enthused in a way that doesn’t annoy the ones who don’t want to be reminded for a year or so. It’s also juggling not earning much with the cash. I’m moving my mailing list to another provider but currently it costs me £40 per month to entertain 4,250 folks. If my £30 per month earning streak continues I will need to uncover a way to monetise my list slightly or I’m going to be in certain doo-doo.

Yep. Doo doo. Scary huh?

Mailing list factoids.

  • Open rates have dropped but only a little.
  • Open rates are slower. I would have a decent idea how a mailing had gone down in two or three days a year ago, these days it’s two weeks before the percentage of opens stops creeping up.
  • Click rates are down. A lot. From a fairly reliable 20% – 40% to about 6% -13%.

What do these factoids tell us Noddy?

  1. Perhaps there is a mailing slow down. It’s clear that folks are still reading my emails but taking longer. Also, a couple of unsubscribe comments along the lines of ‘I love your emails but I am on so many authors’ lists and I just don’t have time to read them’ might bear that out.
  2. Many authors are doing giveaways now, or promos, or things where groups of similar books are offered for free to readers in return for them singing up to the authors’ mailing lists. It may simply be that a lot of readers have already heard about the promos I’m taking part in from other authors involved before I tell them.

So what can I do?

Sit tight and keep doing what I do.

Once again, on this one, I am, dangerously, doing what works for me. This does not mean it’s what works, generally or even that it’s what other people like. After all, if I wanted to sell books to the normals I’d have a really attractive thin woman on the covers and they’d be that shade of green, taupe, blue, brown or red.

For the record, what I want to discover, from mailing lists I join is whether I find the author interesting, as well as the stuff they offer. I like to hear about their books, their progress on new work and about any books they’ve read and enjoyed. I also like it if the emails, themselves, are amusing, or chatty, like a letter to a friend rather than a ‘professional’ offering. Furthermore, as my readers will undoubtedly be getting loads of emails from other authors as well as me, I want to make mine stand out, in a good way. I want them to get enough enjoyment and value from the things I send them to make time for them.

So far, the feedback is good. I think it is weeding out the kinds of people who are going to like and enjoy my books from those who’ve downloaded them free but will probably never read them. Hopefully it will. I’d much rather have an engaged list of 500 people, than a list of 4,500 who aren’t interested.

These days, twenty or thirty folks unsubscribe from my list in a month. That would have come as a big surprise a year ago. But people still write back and interact so I must be doing something right.

I have come up with some practical answers for improving the usefulness of my emails and, therefore, open and click rates but when it comes to onward sales, or library borrows, I’m kind of scratching my head. Maybe my books are shite, except if they were, why are the reviews mostly good? And the bad reviews, with a few exceptions, tend to say things that suggest the reader was the complete antithesis of the book’s target market anyway.

Any other cunning plans?

Well … I need to ask folks questions, find out a bit more about what they are after and then give them what they are interested in. If I set this up right, I can send free books to the people who want free, paid books to the people who want paid and can avoid sending amazon offers to readers who use only Kobo or vice versa.

But while that might help me make the information more pertinent and useful, I’m not sure what I can do about the ten thousand free books they need to read before it’s the ‘turn’ of mine. I also wonder about the 19,000 folks who downloaded Few Are Chosen while it was permafree. Six hundred onward sales from those isn’t a very good track record.

But for what it’s worth, here’s my plan.

I have two weapons and two weapons only. I’m weird and sometimes I’m funny. This pertains to everything: my books, who I am and what I do. In all, the weird and the funny are key. Some people find that hard work, others really like it. So hopefully, if I can carry on being the way I am, I will, eventually, build up a group of follows who appreciate the weird and funny of me, at least, even if they haven’t read the damn books. And maybe, eventually, they will find one of my newsletters leaves them wanting more … enough to dig out the K’Barthan Series, Book 1 and start reading.

It’s my only answer. So I’ll just have to cross my fingers and hope. I’ll let you know how I get on.

On a final note …

If you’re one of the 3,500 out of 4,247 on my mailing list who hasn’t read my book, I am absolutely agog to know two thing:

  1. What on earth you’re doing there?
  2. What on earth you’re getting from it?
  3. Your reasons for not reading the book yet – i.e. your to read list is too long, the book is too long, you’re a book blogger/reviewer and haven’t got round to it, you’re never going to read the book in a month of Sundays but you love the reviews and special offers on other people’s books etc.

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Filed under General Wittering, Good Advice, Marketing Ideas, self publishing

Can I have fried brains with that? Time management/productivity hacks for writers #amwriting #writingtips #timemanagement

The longest blog post in the world … probably.

This week I will be mostly talking about making something out of nothing, or as that pertains to my world: time management.

As many of you will remember, my lack of minutes in the day to do … well … anything much was a continuing trope in many of my posts last year. The frustration of not producing any meaningful work while any ‘free’ time melted away faster than the polar ice caps was strong, and the whinging on my blog extensive, as a result. Sorry about that.

However, good news, I think. It looks as if I’ve fixed it, possibly, or at least, bodged the problem enough for my writerly mojo to return. And as I bitched and complained my way through last year, I did realise that I’m not the only one who struggles with balancing their duties to others and their requirement to write. So I thought I’d share the stuff that has worked for me in the hope that, perhaps, it will help anyone reading this who has similar struggles. So off we go …

A long time ago in a galaxy far away …

Last November, actually, Mum was in hospital again, and as I tried to sort everything out, and write, and be a mum to my own son, a good daughter, and be happy, burnout loomed.

Once we got her sorted out, and back home with Dad, I knew that if I was going to carry on writing I would have to make changes, even if it was just changes to my attitude. And I was going to have to make them fast. I’m an old hand at this now. The trick is not so much as to solve the problem but to alter my thinking so I see it differently. This time the ‘solution’ I arrived at was twofold:

  1. I couldn’t write the kinds of books I had been writing and deal with the things I needed to do in Real Life. I would therefore write shorter, less complicated books.
  2. It was clear that many folks who read my books enjoyed the K’Barthan stuff best. And I knew K’Barth well. There wasn’t so much time for experimentation right then – so that was easy. I’d write shorter, less complicated stories about K’Barth.

Enter the new series of 99p K’Barthan Shorts. In a bid to discover more details about the ‘market’s’ demands I asked what people would like to see more of. Gladys, Ada and Their Trev was the answer from everyone.

Roughseas asked me to write on about how Betsy, on Turnadot Street, started her Bordello. The answer popped up almost immediately. Meanwhile there was another one about The Pan of Hamgee’s early years on the Blacklist. That popped up reasonably fast too. So I had two ideas for short stories ready to go. All that was left was to write them.

Keenly aware that I can’t actually guarantee myself more than about 40 minutes to write in each day, it occurred to me that one of the problems with my rate of production was that its slowness sapped my morale, resulting in even less speed. So making some steady progress was essential to keep up my spirits and keep going. Obviously, as an authorholic, I am, literally addicted – stopping would have been much more sensible but it wasn’t an option. I decided to try and find a way to write more efficiently. I had a bit of a think and I came up with five ways that I could, possibly, give myself a hand:

  1. There might be some book production tools I could use to speed up and ease the process – such as writing software or text-to-speech software.
  2. Planning and plotting a bit before I start would help if I could tie it into the way I write.
  3. Writing shorter and less complicated stories would reduce the cerebral load (as previously mentioned).
  4. If I could improve my time management I might achieve more in the moments I had,
  5. My brain was fairly porridgey and I needed to find a way to re-enthuse it and sharpen it up while avoiding burnout.

1. Production tools

Yes, I am aware this sounds nuts but it occurred to me that one of the problems I face, writing, is that I usually keep the whole plot in my head. This is fine until I’m sad, or  stressed about other stuff, or my writing routine is constantly interrupted. Then, I can’t do it. I lose track of who is doing what, and with what, and to whom. When I make notes to help myself I still fail to remember, or at least, I fail to visualise what’s happening where, so written notes are unhelpful. So back in November 2016 I was spending three quarters of each writing session working out where I’d got to and catching up, and then about five minutes moving it forward before I had to stop.

As I pondered how to solve this knotty conundrum I saw a free seminar by a bloke called Joseph Michael about using a writing programme called Scriviner. Now, I confess, I’d never thought about using Scriviner, it seemed completely pointless, but I couldn’t help noticing, as I watched this free seminar, that the way you lay out a project in Scrivener appeared to cover a couple of my big writing problems.

  • Finding a way to list major scenes in a memorable way so I can work out a cohesive plot
  • Finding something that can remember what’s happened so far, and where I’ve got to, when my head can’t in a way that’s instinctive and at-a-glance.
  • Being able to put bits I like but can’t use yet somewhere close to hand so I can just nip over and cut and paste them in and out and remember they are there.
  • Being able to flip from my writing to my research easily  if I want to.
  • Being able to fit more writing into a short time.
  • In short, having all the information and prompts I need to write effectively in one place without burying one room of my house in post it notes.

The way Joseph Michael had his demo Scrivener set up, everything was laid out on screen where I could see it. My mental filing system is visual and it works horizontally. My ideal filing system would be a huge long table, with all the work in progress laid out on it. I’d walk up and down the table and see what needs to be done. If I try to file things vertically, in stacked trays or in drawers I forget they are there and cannot visualise what I am supposed to be doing or the shape of my task. I lose things in a pile.

My computer is a drawer – even using WordPerfect to write doesn’t fully ameliorate the impact of that, despite the fact it has its documents in tabs and I can switch from one to another with a single click. Things get lost and forgotten in my computer. Important things. Scrivener looked as if it might be the computer equivalent of a table rather than drawers, and when I found it on sale for  75% off, I decided to try it.

Bonus! Except While it was, indeed, the closest thing a computer can produce, in organising and filing terms, to a table, it was incredibly frustrating to use because it’s very much NOT intuitive in some respects. So I bought the training course for a truckload of money. BUT ONLY because it has a 365 day money back guarantee. No 30 day nonsense. A whole damn year. If I get stuck, I look up the problem on the course site, watch the video, which lasts about 3 minutes and I’m set. I am quite quick to pick up computer stuff but even so this worked very well for me. The way it’s set out is like an encyclopedia you can look things up in, rather than a course of long lessons which you annotate. Thus you sidestep the thing where your mind wanders as you take notes and you leave out a crucial click or step, one that renders your notes worthless and necessitates spending 30 minutes of your 40 minutes’ writing time watching a video, from beginning to end, to sort out where you went wrong. It’s way more useful than I expected, almost indispensable. Indeed, it’s probably paid for itself already to be honest. Bugger. Won’t be getting that refund then.

Around this time, I also saw McOther dictating email replies into his iPad and a light dawned. I could speak my books. However, after discovering that there is no way to teach my iPad how to write ‘eyebombing’ when I say ‘eyebombing’ and having the same experience with many other words like that, I reckoned it would be more trouble than it was worth. Even doing some dictation for my non-fiction book where I used the word, ‘spectacles’ instead of eyebombing – with a view to using search and replace, later – it was, frankly, too much of a ball ache. It occurred to me that the whole process of teaching speech-to-text software to understand my vocabulary, the correct spelling for the word arse and all the rest might take a lot more time than it would save. Doubtless I will give it a go at some point, but for the moment, I think I’ll put it in the someday-my-prince-will-come section of my list.

2. Planning and Plotting

Obviously what I envisioned achieving for myself here is far removed from compiling a comprehensive plot and then sketching the story by numbers.  I am, at heart, a pantser. However, it did occur to me that I could save myself a lot of time if I could kick the habit of developing so much backstory that my first scene ends up being one of the last ones. This is how I write: I get to know my characters, get interested in their pasts and before I know it, a new story has emerged. It’s usually a better one but having it turn up a bit earlier in proceedings would save me … well 60k of wasted words last year so, in short, the entirety of last year’s output (some of those words will be rescued or recycled but not all 60k).

I heard about a free seminar promoting a course called Story Engines. Story Engines sounds brilliant, but I can’t afford it. It didn’t help that there was only a short window, during the zenith – or is that the nadir – of the Christmas and post Christmas bankruptcy period. Why does everyone who runs a $500 closed course think a good time to open it up is December when everyone is skint? Sorry, I digress. The seminar was pretty good and opened my eyes to the kinds of questions I should ask myself. Questions which I thought I was asking already but clearly haven’t been. However, I could only afford one course and I thought that, possibly, I would work out more of the plotting stuff on my own than I would the workings of Scrivener. And the Scrivener course cost less. A lot less.

And I still have about 335 days in which to decide whether or not I like it! So I bought it.

3. Writing shorter

An absolute epic fail. For example, I’ve binned 20k of the ‘short’ about how Betsy’s bordello opened and I’m now just bubbling under 29,000 words into the new one. I think I may squish it into about 40,000 but it could run to 60,000. On the upside, I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN. Yeh. Thank you, Story Engines free training and lovely easy-to-see-what’s-going-on Scrivener layout. The magic is still happening, the picture is slowly de-pixilating and sliding into focus and the process is fun again. I also have a very much clearer idea of how Space Dustmen, the new series I’m working on, is going to go, and I’m really enjoying making notes and thinking about ideas. The characters are more focussed and yeh, things are happening there, too. Oh and there’s a non-fiction book.

On the writing shorter books front, then, null points. But on the writing, generally, a massive booyacka!

4. Time Management

We talked about the minuscule size of my writing window. How to make those minutes count then?

Scrivener was surprisingly useful and the plotting was helping but it was only a partial success. My efforts to write were still resulting in redundant words. Cf that 20,000 odd I mentioned just now and the other 40,000 from last year. Even though I will probably use three quarters of them, tweaked, a bit later in their prerequisite stories it was fairly essential that I did something to increase my rate of production and increase the suitability for immediate use of the stuff I produced.

So far, I’d some ideas plotted that I was really chuffed with, I’d laid out the basic chapters I thought I was going to write in Scrivener, added some notes, done the cards etc. But I needed more.

Somewhere, I read that comparing notes with other writers and posting your progress daily can really motivate you so I started a thread on a forum I visit. I’d also read that doing sprints works well for many people. You set a timer for twenty minutes and write until it goes off, have a 5 minute break and then rinse and repeat. I thought I’d see what I could do with that. I reckoned if I spent the first twenty minutes planning the scene and maybe writing a bit, and then the next twenty, going for it, I might get somewhere. No distractions, nothing, just writing the rest. So that day, I started my thread and explained what I was going to do. Then I turned off the internet, opened scrivener, sat down with the pinger set to twenty minutes and off I went.

Well.

That was a fucking eye opener I can tell you.

First sprint: 400 words, second 1000. Smecking Norah! Four weeks later, I have 28,800 words down. Even a hard, pulling-teeth-style sprint nets me 400 words. Just three of those sprints, ie an hour and a quarter given over to writing, and we are looking at 1,200 words, minimum. My record in one 20 minutes is 1,700. Typing. Every morning I can wake up knowing that, even if I only have half an hour to work that day, I can get a few hundred words done. Few things boost a writer’s spirits better than being productive.

I love the sprints and I love the camaraderie of chatting on the thread where we encourage each other and compare results. Definitely a really effective strategy, that one.

5. Avoiding staleness: saying, ‘bollocks’ to social media and making it quality time

With the sprints, Scriviner and even the plotting going well. I wondered if I could work on my freshness of approach. What I mean is, trying to persuade my times of  maximum brainpower to coincide with the times I had available to write.

After a lot of head-scratching it occurred to me that this writing game is a bit like a relationship in many respects. Sometimes, with dating, less is more. Three hours of quality time are worth many more hours of half cock time spent not really connecting that just make the whole thing go stale. I realised that, when quality writing time was thin on the ground, I was spending hours on social media while I did other things looking at emails, or generally staring at my iPad and phone to try and keep myself connected to the electronic ether and with that, somehow, to my writing. Even sitting at home in the evening watching tv, or while I was cooking, or some other situation in which I could never hope to produce any meaningful content for my books I would be gazing soulfully at the screen convincing myself it would help.

It didn’t.

While, on one hand, all this screen time made me feel as if I was maintaining the connection, on the other it fogged it, made me feel as if it was sapping my creativity somehow. And the more in touch with it all I tried to be, the more time was sucked into this faux ‘keeping in touch’, and the less time I spent actually writing. Across my wider life, writing was all I was doing … Oh and panicking about having no time. I did a lot of that. So as well allowing my brain to be gloopified by the wrong kind of screen time, I was starving it of stimulation. No fuel. Poor brain. How could I expect inspiration?

More head-scratching, and then I decided to try and make all the time I had count, across the board, not just in writing but in everything. So I limited social media and marketing time and added other things to my day, experiences, like coffee with a friend, a walk, reading, listening to music, shopping, eyebombing, etc. I also tried switching off the computer at six pm and not turning it on again until the next morning. I still checked my emails and social media first thing as I sat in bed with a cup of coffee. However, I started writing a to do list for the day at the same time. Then when I sat down at the computer after the school run it was easy to reorientate myself. I started experimenting with using sprints to write emails and social media posts. I listed things I needed to look at, set up a sprint to do it in and then stopped when the bell rang. I found I could achieve exactly the same amount of interaction in a fraction of the time. In the evenings, in front of the telly, I stopped checking Facebook on my phone and started knitting socks. Um … Yeh.

The results of this have been amazing. I have way more creativity. When I started this, a month or so ago, there was only really room in my head for one project. After a week, I started having ideas about a project I’d shelved because it was too complicated. After two weeks the short had turned into a novel. After three, a non fiction project popped up. It looks as if I may finish a novel this year. One that I only started writing in earnest four weeks ago. It is as if this simple act of giving my brain time to rest has jump-started my creative mojo. Yes I still get tired, I still get sad about my parents, I still have the odd week of PMT when I can’t meaningfully achieve anything but I also feel fulfilled and fantastic because I am creating stuff – and when I feel like that I create more stuff – and even when it’s not books, it’s very comfortable socks!

Conclusion

So what gave I learned here that might help anyone who has waded through to the end of this? D’you know, I think probably this:

  • Being open to new ideas and open-minded about trying new things can result in solutions you never believed possible. I am really surprised at how helpful Scrivener is, for example, and would never have tried it had it not been flagged as a godsend by a couple of the book selling gurus I follow.
  • Looking at problems from different angles can really help to solve them.
  • A writer’s brain is just like a computer, you need to put stuff in to get stuff out – although unlike computers, I find that putting rubbish into a brain doesn’t necessarily diminish output quality. But the biggie is input. Input has to happen for output.
  • Avoid getting stale.
  • Keep trying! I’m beginning to think that the people who achieve stuff are the folks who never give up. And I’ve discovered this by achieving stuff (in my own very small way but it feels big to me) because I can’t give up. So I’m beginning to think that, within reason, if you try to achieve something for long enough, and work hard enough at it, something WILL happen, even if it’s not what you were expecting. Or to put it another way, when life throws you lemons then yes, take time, lick your wounds, nurse your bruises, regroup … and make lemon meringue pie.
20160412_mandslemon

Pie-ify me big boy!

 

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